Forgiveness

It’s always good to read to the end of the Book… (Hosea 14:1-8)

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I remember encountering the short story genre in senior school with Jeffrey Archer’s, “A Twist in the Tale”. You needed to read to the end of each story to work out what the whole story was about.

Hosea is something like that. If you had stopped reading Hosea a few chapters back, you might have reached an inaccurate, premature conclusion about God.

You might have felt that the God portrayed in these pages of this prophetic book seems too far removed from the God on the pages of the New Testament.

But Hosea 14, however, is a clear demonstration of the fact that God has never changed and never will (Malachi 3:6). The God of Scripture has always been the God of grace.

Hosea 14 begins with the frequent OT refrain; “Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God” (Hosea 14:1). God’s harsh words through the prophet have been justified at every point, and yet the heart of God is that His people would recognise their sin and repent, that they would repent and return to God.

God, through the prophet, invites Israel to ask God to forgive them, ‘to take away all iniquity’ (Hosea 14:2). God appeals to Israel to say to God;

  • Assyria (humankind) will not save us (vs3)
  • Abandon faith in false gods and human-made idols (vs3)
  • Say that you will never bow down to these idols again (vs3)
  • Say that in God alone will we find mercy (vs3)

And then God will respond saying;

  • ‘I will heal you of your faithlessness my love will know no bounds for my anger will be gone forever’ (Hosea 14:4 in the NLT)
  • I will refresh Israel like a refreshing dew from heaven causing flowers and fruitfulness (vs5)
  • I will be like shade to Israel, and so Israel will flourish again like the vine I originally intended it to be (vs7)
  • ‘O Israel, stay away from idols! I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you.’ (Hosea 14:8 in NLT)
  • At the end of the book of Hosea, what is clear is that the desire in the heart of God is for His people to choose to repent so that they can return to Him. God wants to forgive; God wants to lavish His love that knows no bounds on them. That is His desire to lavish love on us.
  • The question is, will we repent, will we stop our sinful ways and love and worship God only? Only we can respond to God’s invitation – I urge you to respond and to keep responding to God daily.

    Costly Love (Hosea 3:1-5)

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    How long was Gomer waywardly unfaithful to Hosea? We don’t know exactly, but it was long enough to have conceived and weaned two children – so presumably a minimum of 4-5yrs!

    All that time, Hosea must have cycled through the whole exhausting range of conflicted emotions. Then God spoke to the prophet; “And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and loves cakes of raisins.” (Hosea 3:1)

    This woman who is not named, who is not even called Hosea’s wife she is so estranged relationally from him (see Hosea 2:2), is still rightfully understood to be his wife Gomer for this is the dominant illustration of the book.

    And yet God commands Hosea to love her again. Since this is what God does to us, His people, loves us even when we are unlovely.

    Hosea obediently goes and buys his wife back from some form of slavery or bondage she has gotten herself into. The fact that Gomer had to be purchased back reveals the desperate situation she has sunk into. No detail is given as to how she got into this situation but for Hosea to reconcile her back to him would cost him the guiltless one.

    Forgiveness always precedes true reconciliation, and forgiveness always costs the one who was wronged.

    Hosea’s having to pay a ransom price to be able to be reconciled with his wife foreshadows what it cost God to be reconciled back to right relationship with us wayward sinners (Rom. 5:6–11).

    God was going to purify Israel through exile in a foreign land – a time when they would have no king of their own. In exile, they would be removed from what had become their everyday idolatry so prevalent in the Northern Kingdom during the years preceding this. (Hosea 3:4)

    But after that appointed time, Israel would; ‘return and devote themselves again to the LORD their God and to David’s descendant, their king’ (Hosea 3:5 in NLT). God would reconcile them to Himself after this time of exile. The wayward tribes of the Northern Kingdom who had been in rebellion against God’s appointed line of kings will have to return to be included in the covenant promises to David’s line and the ultimate King of kings who will come from that line – King Jesus!

    What does this mean for us today?

    • God is patient, merciful and forgiving!
    • God loved us and still loves us even when we are unlovely & ungodly.
    • God wants a real relationship, a loving, committed relationship with us, and because of that God paid the ransom price by sending Jesus the Son to die on the cross in our place for our sin SO THAT we could be freed from the penalty of our slavery to sin and be reconciled back to right relationship with God.
    • What a love story! What a King, what a Saviour. Worship and love Him with all you have for He is worthy.

    But God (Romans 3:21-31)

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    3ab6f2c27c9413a1b12f20fefc4b1a66-700I remember dark cold nights as a parent with screaming teething kids or sick kids who would not sleep, at about 3-4am it feels like the darkest time, the bleakest time when emotional and energy resources are spent, and a sense of desperation has sometimes set in.

    And yet there is the light of dawn just around the corner. I remember seeing the first hints of the sunrise and almost instantaneously feeling like life was not so desperate after all.

    Similarly, after the bleak section from Romans 1:18-3:20 in which Paul has been at pains to detail our human problem of sin, Romans 3:21 is a new dawn of unspeakable joy!

    No one is righteous; no one is good enough; no one can be justified through law-keeping…BUT NOW.

    What glorious words. A new era has dawned. A seismic shift has occurred in salvation history and now everything is different forever and ever.

    21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

    • No one is righteous (morally right & or right before God) (vs9-18)
    • No one can be made righteous through law-keeping (vs20)
    • But now a righteousness from God has been revealed (vs21)
    • The whole Old Testament hinted at its coming… (vs21)
    • A righteousness of God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ (vs22&26)
    • A righteousness that is a gift (vs24)
    • A righteousness graciously bestowed on those who believe in Jesus because of Jesus’ self-sacrificial act of averting the wrath of God that should have been spent on us by taking it on Himself (propitiation/atonement). (vs25)
    • A righteousness that results in that person not just being declared right before God but also freed (redeemed) from their prior slavery to sin, Satan & death. (vs24)

    Our salvation is entirely unmerited. We did not initiate it or deserve it; God stepped in to do what we could not do. In giving us Jesus as our atoning sacrifice, God gave us Himself to save us from Himself, His impending wrath against our sinfulness, so that He could save us for Himself, to be in right relationship with Him forever.

    God worked salvation in such a way that as the Holy God, He could somehow be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (vs26). The cross of Christ was the only way for God to be both just & the justifier of those who trusted in Jesus’ saving work for them on the cross.

    After all, God would not have been just in forgiving sinners if He had not substituted Himself in our place for our sin. Someone had to pay the penalty for sin for God to be just, and yet God did that for you and me. God Himself took on Himself the penalty for sin SO THAT He could justify us, declare us to now be not guilty of the sin we had done. God could do this and still be just because the guilt, shame and punishment that was ours had been transferred onto Him on the cross so that He paid it in full SO THAT we could have His righteousness transferred to us making us right with God.

    As 2 Corinthians 5:20 (NIV) summarises;
    “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

    Praise Him. Thank Him. Worship Him. Love Him. Live your whole life for Him.

    Jesus’ Identity & Purpose (John 18:38-19:27)

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    Jesus’ trial before Pilate oozes truth about Jesus’ true identity and His purpose on the earth.

    “I find no guilt in him” (18:38) – Pilate said.

    And yet, he released the real criminal, the sinner.

    And so Barabbas walked free, a fore-runner of you and me!

    Yet the innocent One was condemned – all of our gospel story.

    Pilate had Jesus flogged by soldiers, they mocked Jesus mercilessly.

    Jesus was silent just as had been prophesied (Isaiah 53:7)

    Pilate then repeated same verdict two more times; “I find no guilt in him”! (vs4&6)

    Dripping with irony, Jesus is accused of claiming to be exactly who He was – God! (vs7)

    Pilate then questions Jesus again and lectures Jesus on authority!

    Jesus replies; “You would have no authority over me unless it had been given to you from above.” (vs11)

    Pilate shivers in his boots & tries to release Jesus again having found nothing wrong with Him, but the Jews revolt…

    Pilate pronounces the truth about Jesus to those present, “Behold your King!” (vs14)

    But Jesus is rejected by the Jews again, they don’t want Him as king they want him dead.

    Pilate re-checks with those present, proclaiming truth as he does; “Shall I crucify your King?” (vs15)

    Blasphemously they cry out; “We have no king but Caesar!” (vs15)

    And so Jesus was condemned to die by crucifixion.

    Pilate, God’s agent in the moment states the truth again as he inscribes on the cross; “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” (vs19)

    The Jewish officials try to get Pilate to change the wording to soften it’s meaning

    Pilate would not budge; “What I have written, I have written.” (vs22)

    Jesus, King of all kings, came to die in our place for our sin, the Lamb of God, the suffering servant, He the sinless One was bound so we could be freed, He was crushed for our iniquities and the punishment that God put on Him paid the way for us to be forgiven, His death and resurrection gave you and me life!  Behold your King!

    Gospel Glimpses (Mark 15)

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    Justification (vs3-5)

    Jesus didn’t justify Himself, didn’t defend himself against His accusers, would’t speak in his own defence to Pilate’s amazement.  Why?  Jesus would not justify or defend Himself, in order that He could justify and defend from the accuser, those who trust in Him.

    Substitution (vs6-15)

    Jesus the sinless One was mocked, whipped, beaten and ultimately crucified in our place for our sin, while the sinner (Barabbas) walked free!  The One deserving of only praise substituted Himself and took the punishment that was only ours to bear.

    Jesus saved us by not saving Himself (vs29-32)

    Jesus was taunted; “save yourself!”  People thought Jesus’ death was a sign of Jesus’ lack of power, thought it was a moment of Jesus’ defeat and yet it was Jesus’ power and strength, His power of the will that kept Him there not a lack of power.  Jesus could have at any moment called upon a host of angels to save Himself from the cross and the mocking.  But Jesus endured the cross scorning its shame for the joy of what lay ahead if He did (Hebrews 12:2) – the joy of redeeming us and restoring us to a right relationship with Him.  Jesus didn’t save Himself so that He could save you and me.

    Forsaken so we could be adopted (vs33-34)

    In what I believe must be the most chilling, shocked words in all of Scripture, Jesus cries out to the Father; “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus was forsaken, abandoned in that moment by the Father & the Spirit as the sin of the whole world rested on Him, so that those who put their trust in Him would never be forsaken by the Father ever.  Jesus was forsaken so that we who trust in Him could be adopted and would belong to the Father forever.

    Access granted (vs37-39)

    Jesus endured all of this, so that the way to God could be opened up forever.  Nothing remains between God and those Jesus has forgiven.  We are sons and daughters of the most High God, we belong in His presence, we have access, we have His heart and His attention.  We have no need of a sacrifice system or a priesthood, we have benefitted from the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus and we have one mediator between ourselves and God – Jesus Christ.

    Praise Jesus!  There is no one like you Jesus.  None can compare.  Thank you for salvation, thank you for bearing everything that should have been ours and for giving us what we did not deserve.

    God is just (2 Thessalonians 1:1-12)

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    Paul has been boasting about these Thessalonian believers to other churches.  He has been encouraged by their growing faith and love, and also by their steadfastness and faith in the midst of the persecution and the affliction they have had to endure because of their faith.

    “Faith under fire becomes faith refined by the fire.”

    But what comfort is there for those who are being treated unjustly, persecuted because of their faith in Christ?

    “…indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven…” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-7)

    What comfort is there?  Scripture answers that God is just.  Implied here is that our Father God who is the righteous all-knowing judge of all sees everything that is done and that which is not done that ought to have been done.  God is just, because God will afflict those who have afflicted His children.

    And so the knowledge that God is just gives relief/rest to one who has been unjustly treated or who has seen their loved ones unjustly treated.

    We are often tempted to make premature assessments, in this life.  It can and does sometimes look like the unjust go unpunished, seemingly unaffected by their sin and seemingly free from consequences despite the despicable things they have inflicted on others.  Our systems of justice often let people down as the justice they deserve slips away into the cracks of our sin-broken societal systems of justice.

    But for those who call God ‘Father’ there will be justice.  Our Father will act on our behalf and knowing this relieves us of any need to attempt to ‘repay evil with evil’ (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

    Rather, we can and should forgive people.  As we do, we are stopping that thing they did from continuing to rob or hurt us into the future.  Forgiving people sets the forgiver free, and leaves the forgiven before the God of all the earth – who is just.

    Ask Father God right now.  Is there anyone I need to forgive?

    Choose now to set yourself free, choose now to stop allowing that thing from continuing to impact your life.  Thank your Father that He is just.

    When though?  You might say, well I haven’t seen God being just yet!

    I believe there are times when we do see the justice of God in this lifetime come upon people, but this passage is very clear that the time everyone will know that God is just is on the day when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with attending angels and flames of fire (vs7-8).

    On that day God the righteous judge will ‘inflict vengeance/retribution’ (vs8) on those  who wronged his children (implied by the context) and specifically on those who rejected Jesus Christ.

    Note how God is the active agent here, God the righteous just judge is the One inflicting retribution.  This clear teaching in Scripture confronts the unbiblical popular notion that the God of Scripture is some wishy washy dispenser of ‘love’ or that it is loving  to the victim to let the wicked go unpunished for the sin done to them!

    And yet on this same day that Jesus comes back in all His glory, on this day when the unrighteous who rejected Christ will face the punishment for their sin (vs9) and will be shut out from the presence of God forever and ever, on that same day those of us who believed in Jesus will be glorying in Jesus, will be marvelling at Jesus in all His revealed splendour and majesty (vs10)!

    May, you believe, may you ask Jesus Himself to forgive you of the wrong you’ve done before that Day.  May you and I reach out to EVERYONE we can while we still can with the good news that anyone can join that happy crowd (vs10) if they will only bow the knee now and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour and ask Him to forgive them of their sin.

    For if you do accept Jesus, God is just, and so will forgive you of your sin, you will not face any punishment for whatever you did, because God already punished that sin when Jesus died on the cross in your place for your sin, and so God will be just to save you and welcome you into a glorious eternity with Him.

    Have you crossed the line of faith and put your faith in Jesus and asked Him to forgive you of all your sin?

    Ask the Holy Spirit now to put people on your heart who don’t yet believe in Jesus, pray for them and DO ANYTHING the Holy Spirit leads you to do…

    Inelegant progress & peace

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     “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. (Colossians 3:12-15)

    In writing to the Colossian church, Paul is appealing strongly for them to be united with one another and to be at peace with one another.  Having urged them to put to death, to put away all sorts of sinful behaviour which is no longer befitting of a community of Christ followers (Chapter 3:5-11) he then begins to exhort them regarding the lives that are appropriate for the church of God (Chapter 3:12-4:5).

    In our individualised era it is worth remembering that these are all instructions to a community of faith, the church, not just to individuals.  All of these exhortations require a community and many of them assume we are immersed in a sinful community, working out faith and life in this age with all its brokeness!

    After all, you don’t need to be compassionate unless there is hurt or pain or sickness or death, you don’t need to be exhorted to be kind normally unless you’re needing to do so despite someone’s unkind behaviour, you don’t need patience unless someone is irritating you or slow to change, you don’t need forgive unless you’ve been sinned against or hurt in some way…

    Churches can be hotbeds for conflict & hurt!

    Churches can be hotbeds for conflict & hurt.  This is because any relationship opens us up to both the opportunity to be loved and known and also the possibility of inflicting and or having hurt inflicted on us.  So, as a whole church sometimes rather slowly work out their salvation in close proximity to one another it can get quite messy relationally!

    The bible is so real.  This is what we experience in the church is it not?  I don’t know about you but personally I am constantly aware of my need to change.  Sadly I let people down, I hurt people or disappoint them probably in more way that I know. As a result I am aware of my great need to be more like Christ and less and less like the old me.  Well, when you multiply that personal experience by a couple hundred people in a church – you end up with ample opportunity for tripping over each other relationally.

    Therefore we are exhorted to remember that we are God’s chosen ones (vs12) – we ourselves are precious to God and so is that person you are so mad at!  Remembering how precious someone is to God, how their heavenly Father sees them helps us to get a different perspective.  That person might have done something terrible but they are God’s beloved child still.  It is good to ask ourselves in times like this; “How aligned are our thoughts to His thoughts about them?”

    Scripture exhorts us teaching us that we are to be compassionate, kind, patient, humble, meek with one another because God has been all these things to us.  You could say that we are to preach the gospel to ourselves continuously, reminding ourselves of what God has done for us.  If we do, it will fill us with fresh grace for those who just like us are also progressing in the faith rather inelegantly at times.

    In this passage, Paul points back to the gospel charging us that we are to forgive one another ‘as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must forgive’ (vs13).  Reminding ourselves of the gospel and that we have had all our sins forgiven, serves us by humbling us, reminding us that we are like “THEM” who have hurt or sinned against us, it puts us in the same boat as them which ought to result in humility, grace, mercy and forgiveness being extended to them by us, just as God extended all of these to us in Jesus.

    Paul’s impassioned plea for the church is that we ought to be characterised by peace as a community of believers.  Dick Lucas has said;

    “Now the rule of Christ is the rule of peace. It is inconceivable that those who share with one another the benefits of that great peace-making work of the cross (1:20) should live with any hatred or contempt for each other in their hearts. The Christian congregation should be a realm of peace just because every Christian is totally committed to the rule of peace. When Christ rules in the heart, his peace will rule in the fellowship”

    As churches, we are those who share in the astonishing benefits of Jesus’ great peace-making work on the cross, we have been reconciled to God through His sacrificial death.

    Therefore it is unacceptable that we tolerate disunity in our lives and our relationships within the church.  When we do tolerate disunity or disfunction, when we hold on to unforgiveness and bitterness in the church what we in fact are showing is that Christ is not ruling in that place in our hearts, because when Christ does rule, His rule brings peace and brings unity amongst us.

    So here is the paradox, churches are communities with close relationships shared by Christ followers who are all on the same inelegant journey towards greater Christlikeness, and yet all who are on that journey are at various points along on it and so its guaranteed that there will be hurt, disappointment and conflict and yet we are those who have submitted to the rule of Christ and His rule is grace, mercy, patience, kindness and peace!

    Therefore, may we be both less surprised when there is relational difficulty in the church and may we be more Christ-like in our determination to resolve conflict, to be peace-makers.

    May we remind ourselves constantly of how God has treated us (the gospel) and determine to treat those whom God loves and whom God has saved and whom God has placed us into community with – with the same grace, mercy, forgiveness patience and kindness God has given to us.

    Is there anyone you need to forgive or reconcile with?

    What is stopping you?  Is it really a valid reason?  

    Does it trump these commands from Scripture and the law of Christ?